Point of view: Is green growth the fix we are looking for?
By William Hynes, Policy Analyst in the Policy Division of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate and Co-ordinator of the OECD Green Growth and Developing Countries Report.
Twenty years ago, 11 year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki addressed the Earth Summit with a strong and challenging call for world leaders to change their ways: “If you don’t know how to fix it, stop breaking it.”
This challenge was carried forward at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20, 20-22 June 2012). The outcome document of this summit, The Future We Want, could undoubtedly “make a tremendous difference in generating positive global change” – if the actions agreed upon there are implemented and follow-up measures are taken. Nonetheless, the document is the product of intensive protracted negotiations and as such is a text based on compromise.
There is wide agreement, in this sense, that Rio+20 fell short of delivering the substantive outcomes many had hoped for. The ongoing economic crisis in developed economies was partially at fault, as were tensions between rich, emerging and poor countries and the consequent unwillingness to enter into new commitments. Furthermore, the Rio+20 outcome document has been criticised for failing to adequately address serious environmental challenges. So while the agreement recognises problems and reaffirms and renews previous positions, it does not seriously push the sustainable development agenda forward, but rather presents piecemeal solutions.
Rio+20 suggests that the international community is in denial about the extent of the global environmental problem. According to Oxford scholar Avner Offer, there are three forms of denial: rational denial (“It’s not really happening”); emotional denial (“I don’t want to know”); and technological optimism (“Something will turn up”). In order to address those critical issues remaining post Rio, such denial needs to be countered.
There were, however, positive outcomes from Rio+20. In particular, there was widespread recognition of the importance of green economy and growth and their potential contribution to sustainable development and poverty reduction. While the value of growth and its ecological and social consequences have long been queried, it is increasingly evident that green and growth do not necessarily need to contradict.
The starting point for greening growth has to be a reconsideration of the way we define and value growth. To make green growth a reality, we need to: mainstream environmental concerns into economic planning; build capacities; and deploy specific instruments that can take advantage of green growth opportunities and in so doing speed up progress towards sustainable development. Finally, we need to adopt this concept across the globe. Developing countries in particular can benefit from such a transition, and DAC members are supporting their efforts in doing so.
To grow green, we need to think and act differently. We need a growth strategy that will allow us to continue to progress while preserving the environment. Policy makers can create incentives – through regulation and market-based instruments – that can help to change the way we consume and the way we do business. We can make bad practices more expensive through environmental fiscal reform and by removing fuel subsidies. And we can provide incentives for good practices by creating value for eco-system services, encouraging the sustainable and efficient use of resources, introducing incentives for innovation and new energy systems, and promoting markets for green goods and services.
So while green growth seems to offer much potential, we have to ask ourselves: What will it take to make this the fix we are looking for? Maybe not a revolution, but certainly a serious recalibration of how we think, act and grow.